The cute and the fluffy


political communication
internet memes

How to Cite

Laineste, L., Fiadotava, A., Šipöczová, E., & Castañar Rubio, G. (2023). The cute and the fluffy: pets, humour and personalisation in political communication. The European Journal of Humour Research, 10(4), 99–129.


When serious official political statements are not enough to get people’s votes, politicians often turn to attention-grabbing and emotion-triggering self-presentation. They give the public access to their “normal, everyday” lives through personalisation and use other tools of “new” politics to create a favourable image of themselves. They can also show the unexpected, backstage aspects of their lives, such as their interactions with their pets. The paper analyses four case studies from different countries (Belarus, Estonia, Slovakia and Spain) in which politicians’ references to their pets became a prominent topic in internet communication and provoked numerous humorous reactions in the form of memes. By looking at various degrees of politicians’ personalisation strategies, we show that “new” and “old” politics should be regarded as the poles of a continuum rather than a binary opposition. We also discuss the content, form and stance of the humorous internet memes posted in reaction to the appearance of politicians’ pets in the news. Our research indicates that such memes function to provoke a discussion and, as a result, form a polyvocal commentary on events; the politicians, however, must take risks accompanying unconventional, revealing political communication and hope that “there's no such thing as bad publicity”.


Abidin, C. (2017). ‘Vote for my selfie: politician selfies as charismatic engagement’, in Kuntsman, A. (ed.), Selfie Citizenship, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 75-88.

Anduiza, E., Gallego, A. & Cantijoch, M. (2010). ‘Online political participation in Spain: the impact of traditional and internet resources’. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 7 (4), pp. 356-368.

Archakis, A. & Tsakona, V. (2011). ‘Informal talk in formal settings: humorous narratives in Greek parliamentary debates’, in Tsakona V. & Popa D. E. (eds.), Studies in Political Humour. In Between Political Critique and Public Entertainment, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 271-278. https//

Attardo, S. (2020). The Linguistics of Humor: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1965 [1984]). Rabelais and His World. Indiana University Press: Bloomington.

Beskow, D. M., Kumar, S. & Carley, K. M. (2020). ‘The evolution of political memes: detecting and characterizing internet memes with multi-modal deep learning’. Information Processing & Management 57 (2), pp. 1-13.

Brzozowska, D. (2009). ‘Polski dyskurs ludyczny i jego międzynarodowe konteksty’ [Polish ludic discourse vocabulary and its cultural contexts]. Tekst i Dyskurs - Text und Diskurs 2, pp. 149-162.

Chlebda, W. (2005). Szkice o skrzydlatych słowach. Interpretacje lingwistyczne [Sketches About Winged Words. Linguistic Interpretations]. Opole: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Opolskiego.

Dakhlia, J. & Lhérault, M. (2008) ‘Peopolisation et politique’. Le Temps des Médias 1, pp. 8-12.

Davies, C. (2010). ‘Jokes as the truth about Soviet socialism’. Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore 46, pp. 9-32. https//

Denisova, A. (2019). Internet Memes and Society: Social, Cultural, and Political Contexts. London: Routledge.

Dundes, A. & Abrahams, R. D. (1987). ‘On elephantasy and elephanticide: the effect of time and place’, in Dundes, A. (ed.), Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles & Stereotypes, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, pp. 41-54.

Dynel, M. (2016). ‘"I has seen image macros!" Advice animals memes as visual-verbal jokes’. International Journal of Communication 10, pp. 660-688.

Ekman, M. & Widholm, A. (2017). ‘Performative intimacies and political celebritisation’, in Kuntsman, A. (ed.), Selfie Citizenship, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 65-74.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London, New York: Longman.

Fritz, M. (2012). ‘Political animals: taming campaign creatures’. PBS NewsHour, 23 March. Retrieved November 20, 2021 from

Gaffney, J. (2015). France in the Hollande Presidency: The Unhappy Republic. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Goffman, E. (1956). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.

Gordillo Rodríguez, M. T. & Bellido-Pérez, E. (2021). ‘Politicians self-representation on Instagram: the professional and the humanized candidate during 2019 Spanish elections’. Observatorio (OBS*) 15 (1), pp. 109-136.

Hale, A. (2021). ‘Ent(air)tainment: how the Jonesy and Amanda radio program converts distance into connection’. Journal of Radio & Audio Media, pp. 1-22.

Heimo, A. & Koski, K. (2014). ‘Internet memes as statements and entertainment’. Folklore Fellows Network 44, pp. 4-12.

Isotalus, P. & Almonkari, M. (2011). ‘Current trends in political communication and criteria for political leaders. Perspectives of the Finnish press and party leaders’, in De Blasio, E., Hibberd, M. & Sorice, M. (eds.), Leadership and New Trends in Political Communication, Rome: Luiss CMCS, pp. 139-156. Retrieved December 3, 2021 from

Jakobson, R. (1960). ‘Linguistics and poetics’, in Sebeok, T. (ed.), Style in Language. Cambridge: Cambridge MIT Press, pp. 350-377.

Jerslev, A. & Mortensen, M. (2016). ‘What is the self in the celebrity selfie? Celebrification, phatic communication and performativity’. Celebrity Studies 7 (2), pp. 249-263.

Keller, T. R. & Kleinen-von Königslöw, K. (2018). ‘Pseudo-discursive, mobilizing, emotional, and entertaining: identifying four successful communication styles of political actors on social media during the 2015 Swiss national elections’. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 15 (4), pp. 358-377.

Klots, A. (2017). The Kitchen Maid that Will Rule the State: Domestic Service and the Soviet Revolutionary Project, 1917-1941. New Brunswick: The State University of New Jersey PhD thesis. Retrieved December 1, 2021 from

Kravets, O. (2021). ‘It’s no joke: The critical power of a laughing chorus’. Marketing Theory 21 (3), pp. 297-315.

Kundla, R. (2019). ‘Rene Kundla: Martin Repinski omamoodi uuestisünd’ [Rene Kundla: Martin Repinski’s peculiar revival]., 28 March. Retrieved November 23, 2021 from

Laineste, L. (2013). ‘Funny or aggressive? Failed humour in internet comments’. Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore 53, pp. 29-46. Retrieved May 10, 2021 from

Lakson, P. (2016). ‘Amet teeb Repinski kitsefarmile eksitava reklaami tõttu ettekirjutuse’ [Consumer Protection Agency makes a precept for Konju goat farm for misleading advertising]. Postimees, 29 November. Retrieved November 23, 2021 from

Lalancette, M. & Raynauld, V. (2019). ‘The power of political image: Justin Trudeau, Instagram, and celebrity politics’. American Behavioral Scientist 63 (7), pp. 888-924.

Lukianova, N., Shteynman, M. & Fell, E. (2019). ‘Political memes in the 2018 presidential campaigns in Russia: dialogue and conflict’. Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication 10 (1), pp. 71-86.

Maarek, P. J. (2014). ‘Politics 2.0: new forms of digital political marketing and political communication’. Trípodos 34, pp. 13-22.

Magdoń, S. (1995). ‘Duch zabawy w mediach’ [The spirit of fun in media]. Zeszyty Prasoznawcze 3-4, pp. 7-16.

Maltzman, F. et. al. (2012). ‘Unleashing presidential power: the politics of pets in the White House’. PS: Political Science & Politics 45, pp. 395-400.

Martins, C. P. (2018). ‘Trump: the negative uprise in Political Humor’. Estudos em Comunicação/Communication Studies 1 (27), pp. 207-217.

McLaughlin, B. & Macafee, T. (2019). ‘Becoming a presidential candidate: social media following and politician identification’. Mass Communication and Society 22 (5), pp. 584-603.

Mencej, M. (2019). ‘Introduction: The human-animal relationship in belief narratives.’ Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore 77, pp. 7-10. Retrieved April 22, 2021 from

Miltner, K. M. (2018). ‘Internet memes’, in Burgess, J., Marwick, A. & Poell, T. (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Social Media, London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 412-428.

Morreall J. (2005). ‘Humour and the conduct of politics’, in Lockyer, S. & Pickering, M. (eds.), Beyond a Joke, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 63-78.

Mutz, D. C. (2010). ‘The dog that didn't bark: the role of canines in the 2008 campaign’. PS: Political Science & Politics 43 (4), pp. 707-712.

Männi, M. (2016). ‘Säh sulle eestimaist: maaeluminister Martin Repinski kitsejuust tuleb Hollandist [So much for Estonian: Minister Martin Repinski’s goat cheese comes from the Netherlands]’. Eesti Ekspress, 22 November. Retrieved November 23, 2021 from (2016). ‘Ya lyubitel' zhivotnykh, potomu chto ya vyros sredi zhivotnykh. Ikh nado berech' [I am an animal lover because I grew up among animals. They must be protected]’. Belorusskie Novosti, 17 November. Retrieved November 2, 2021 from

Olczyk, T. (2010). Politorozrywka i popperswazja. Reklama telewizyjna w polskich kampaniach wyborczych XXI Wieku. [Pop Entertainment and Pop Persuasion. TV Advertisement in the Election Strategies in the 21st Century]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Akademickie i Profesjonalne.

Oring, E. (1992). Jokes and Their Relations. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Oring, E. (2003). Engaging Humor. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

O’Toole, T. et. al. (2003). ‘Tuning out or left out? Participation and non-participation among young people’. Contemporary Politics 9, pp. 45-61.

Otto, L., Glogger I. & Boukes, M. (2017). ‘The softening of journalistic political communication: a comprehensive framework model of sensationalism, soft news, infotainment, and tabloidization’. Communication Theory 27 (2), pp. 136-155.

Ożóg, K. (2004). Język w służbie polityki [Language in the Service of Politics]. Rzeszów: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego.

Pahl, B. (2017). ‘Pussy Riot’s humour and the social media: self-irony, subversion, and solidarity’. The European Journal of Humour Research 4 (4), pp. 67-104.

Papacharissi, Z. (2015). Affective Publics. Sentiment, Technology, and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Poprawa, M. (2012). ‘Polish political humour. An outline of the phenomenon’, in Laineste, L., Brzozowska, D. & Chłopicki, W. (eds.), Estonia and Poland. Creativity and Tradition in Cultural Communication. Vol. 1: Jokes and Their Relations, Tartu: ELM Scholarly Press, pp. 117-138.

Riigikogu 2021: Martin Repinski’s page on the Parliament of Estonia official web page. Retrieved October 12, 2021 from

Quintelier, E. & Vissers, S. (2008). ‘The effect of internet use on political participation’. Social Science Computer Review 26, pp. 411-427.

Saftoiu, R. & Popescu, C. (2014). ‘Humor as a branding strategy in political discourse. A case study from Romania’. Revista Signos 47 (85), pp. 293-320. (2020). ‘"Za shpitsem spryatali rekordnyy prirost zabolevshikh". Politkonsul'tat o tom, zachem Lukashenko sobaka v pole’ ["A record increase in the number of [COVID-19] cases was hidden behind the spitz." Political consultant on why Lukashenko needs a dog in the field]’., 29 April. Retrieved November 2, 2021 from:

Selva-Ruiz, D. & Caro-Castaño, L. (2017). ‘Uso de Instagram como medio de comunicación política por parte de los diputados españoles: la estrategia de humanización en la ‘vieja’ y la ‘nueva’ política’ [The use of Instagram as a political communication channel by Spanish deputies: The humanization strategy in the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ politics]. Profesional de la Información 26 (5), pp. 903-915.

Shifman, L. (2007). ‘Humor in the age of digital reproduction: continuity and change in internet-based comic texts’. International Journal of Communication 1, pp. 187-209. Retrieved September 13, 2021 from

Shifman, L. (2013). ‘Memes in a digital world: reconciling with a conceptual troublemaker’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 18, pp. 362-377.

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Stanyer, J. (2013). Intimate Politics: Publicity, Privacy and the Personal Lives of Politicians in Media Saturated Democracies. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Sturken, M. & Cartwright L. (2009). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd ed.). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Szabó, G. (2020). ‘Emotional communication and participation in politics’. Intersections 6 (2), pp. 5-21. (2021). ‘"Uzhas komichnyy" i "klounada". Sobaka Lukashenko gulyala po stolu vo vremya uzhina. V sotssetyakh otsenili shpitsa i khozyaina’ ["Comic horror" and "clowning". Lukashenko's dog walked on the table during dinner. Social media users comment on the spitz and his owner].,11 January. Retrieved September 2, 2021 from

Thompson, J. B. (2011). ‘Shifting boundaries of public and private life’. Theory, Culture & Society 28 (4) pp. 49-70. (2021). ‘FOTO Matovič sa v očiach vtipkárov zmenil na svojho Mačiaka: Môže za to jeho status, niektoré vtipy asi nerozdýchal’ [Photo: Matovič was turned into his Mačiak by jokers. Due to his status, some of the jokes might be too much for him]., 19 May. Retrieved September 2, 2021 from

Turnbull-Dugarte, S. J. (2019). ‘Explaining the end of Spanish exceptionalism and electoral support for Vox’. Research & Politics, April - June 2019, pp. 1-8.

Van Aelst, P., Sheafer, T. & Stanyer, J. (2011). ‘The personalization of mediated political communications: a review of concepts, operationalizations and key findings’. Journalism 13 (2), pp. 203-220.

Van Zoonen, L. (2006). ‘The personal, the political and the popular: a woman’s guide to celebrity politics’. European Journal of Cultural Studies 9 (3), pp. 287-301.

Võsoberg, V. (2016). ‘Mees nagu metsapull: värske minister pakub Eesti meestele potentsirohtu [A man like a bull: new minister offers a potence medicine for Estonian men]’. Õhtuleht, 23 November. Retrieved November 23, 2021 from

Wagner, A. & Schwarzenegger, C. (2020). ‘A populism of lulz: the proliferation of humor, satire, and memes as populist communication in digital culture’, in Krämer B. & Holtz-Bacha, C. (eds.), Perspectives on Populism and the Media. Avenues for Research, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, pp. 313-332.

Webber, J. (2013). The Cultural Set-up of Comedy: Affective Politics in the United States Post 9/11. Bristol: Intellect.

Wickberg, D. (1998). The Senses of Humor: Self and Laughter in Modern America. Ithaka-London: Cornell University Press.

Wood, M., Corbett, J. & Flinders M. (2016). ‘Just like us: everyday celebrity politicians and the pursuit of popularity in an age of anti-politics’. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 18 (3), pp. 581-598.

Ziv, A. & Gadish, O. (1990). The disinhibiting effects of humour: aggressive and affective responses. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 3 (3), pp. 247-257.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2022 The European Journal of Humour Research


Download data is not yet available.